The London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) launches its 14th edition from November 1–14 before embarking on its annual tour November 18–24.LKFF has announced its full program of films for this year, including several horror and thriller titles. The Special Focus section, and much of this year’s festival program, will highlight the historic milestone of 100 years of Korean cinema along with an exciting mix of U.K. and international premieres.
My favorite Korean shocker is legendary director Kim KiYoung’s original 1960 version of The Housemaid (Hanyeo), in which a beautiful young housemaid wreaks havoc on a piano teacher and his family. Kim is represented at the festival this year with two genre films, the first of which is Ieoh Island. LKFF’s logline for the film is, “This is an extinction rebellion! Ieoh Island, Kim Ki-young’s third film with his young star Lee Hwa-si, is justly hailed as the most bizarre Korean film of all time, for its shamanic necrophilia, foggy island of women divers and cursed men, flashbacks-within-flashbacks, and lots of dead fish. Kim’s trademark horror combines his psychosexual drama with a parable of pollution that could not feel more timely.” Starring Lee Hwa-si, Kim Chung-chul, Park Jung-ja, and Park Am, this 1977 film is a true classic.
Also from Kim is Goryeojang. The title is a term used to describe the mythical custom of abandoning one’s parents in the mountains once they reach old age. Kim’s 1963 film of the same name is “set in a famine-ravaged village that practises this custom; the film explores a variety of characters and their struggle for survival. The central character of the film is Gu-ryeong. Permanently injured as the result of a childhood accident, he endures ceaseless insults and ostracism. This makes for uncomfortable viewing for a contemporary audience, yet Kim does not shy away from the brutal and grotesque side of human nature, embracing it with typical black humour,” according to the festival’s website. The film stars Kim Jin-kyu, Ju Jeung-ryu, Kim Bo-ae, and Kim Dong-won.
Suspenser The Devil’s Stairway looks promising. From the LKFF description: “Kim Ki-young showed in The Housemaid that in the hands of a master of suspense, a stairway could take on a malevolent life of its own. Lee Man-hee’s atmospheric noir has two. Kim Jin-kyu often played sober, middle-class professionals, men born to wear suits. In this psycho-thriller, the respectability of his Dr. Hyeon will be peeled away from him layer by painful layer.” This 1964 outing stars Kim Jin-kyu, Moon Jung-suk, Bang Seong-ja, and Jeong Ae-ran.
The 1987 film The Man with Three Coffins “This complex, beautiful and puzzling film is Lee Jang-ho’s most accomplished literary adaptation, transforming the uncanny fiction of Lee Je-ha into a visually haunting classic. Lee Bo-hee plays the wife, in flashbacks, then reappears as a part-time prostitute and also as a nurse taking a dying old man on his own impossible trajectory North. This is a very Korean – therefore universal — story of divided selves and sundered nations. The final shamanic rite by the riverside is one of the most mysterious scenes in Korean cinema.” Lee Bo-hee, Kim Myung-kon, Ko Seol-bong, and Chu Seok-yang topline.
In the Cinema Now section, LKFF offers The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale: “Where Yeon Sang-ho’s live-action Train To Busan and complementary anime Seoul Station (both 2016), and the television series Kingdom from this year, have made zombies a serious part of Korean entertainment, Lee Min-jae’s feature debut (as writer/director) shows the funnier side of these flesh-eating fiends.” This 2018 film stars Jung Jae-young, Kim Nam-gil, Um Ji-won, and Lee Soo-kyung.
Another promising Cinema Now selection is Height of the Wave. LKFF states, “Park Jung-bum (The Journals of Musan and Alive), one time assistant director for Lee Chang-dong, returns to the festival fresh from winning the Special Jury prize at Locarno for this complex, multifaceted, emotionally astute thriller about greed and corruption in a small town. Eschewing typical genre trappings, and all the more powerful for it, this slow burning character study creeps up behind its audience and takes us deep into the rotting hearts of its troubled characters.” A 2019 outing, the film stars Lee Seung-yeon, Lee Yeon, Choi Eun-seo, and Park Jung-bum.
Director Ha GilJong gets his own retrospective section this year at KLFF, and his 1977 effort The Ascension of Han-ne sounds like an intriguing film for genre fans: “In 19th century Korea, a woman is saved from a suicide attempt and brought back to the village of her rescuer. Here, she is regarded with fear and suspicion, with many believing she will bring them bad luck owing to the pronouncements of a corrupt shaman. Although set far in the past, Ha critiques the present, as he explores how folkloric and often misogynist traditions echo into the present day, in a society framed by archaic patriarchal convention. Often disturbing, and audacious in its use of tropes from traditional ghost stories, it’s one of Ha’s most intriguing films.” The film features Hah Myung-joong, Jeon Young-sun, and Hwang Hae.
For more information, visit KLFF’s official website at http://koreanfilm.co.uk/.